November 25, 2015

An opportunity missed

To the woman behind me in line at the grocery store:

I think you saw judgement in my eyes. Judgement for your body, your clothes, what you had in your basket.

Judgement for your child, not dressed appropriately for the weather. The child with no shoes on a chilly night. A child who was too large to be sitting up in the front.

I could see defensiveness in your eyes as they met mine, like a cat ready to fight yet another middle-aged white woman with clean jeans and a university t-shirt. One more person to judge you, to think they’re better than you.

That's not what I think.

I saw your body. How it clearly doesn’t consume nearly enough calories each day. I saw your eyes, clear and intelligent. I saw your clothes, clean, incredibly worn, and woefully inadequate for the evening. I saw your basket, how you had put together the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner on less than I was spending on the four forgotten items I had braved the store at the last minute on Thanksgiving eve to purchase. A dinner that could not have been for more than two.

I saw your child, who was clearly growing faster than you could keep up. I saw how you never let her be more than a foot from your side. Almost as if you were afraid.

I saw your eyes, and they reminded me of a lonely time in my life when I was desperate and frightened. A time when I lived afraid and uncertain. I tried to pass a smile between us. You didn’t pass it back.

I owe you an apology. For not thinking fast enough. For wanting to help you in some way but not coming up with something that wouldn’t hurt your pride if I was right about you and wouldn’t hurt mine if I was wrong.

Of course, I thought too late. I should have told you how beautiful your daughter’s eyes are. Every mother wants to hear that. Or I should have left my change in the slot of the self-checkout. It was a handful of dollars I would have never missed and would have paid for everything in your cart.

You were right there, and I didn’t act. Maybe we will cross paths again and next time I can make a difference for you.

But if we don’t, I hope that smile was something to let you know that I saw you. You aren’t invisible, aren’t less than those around you. I pray someday you don’t have to live in fear. That you find strength.

I saw you.

October 8, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter

By Jennifer Hannigan

I took a photo of you today. I took many actually, which you’re used to. I merely have to pick up a camera (or camera phone) for you to start throwing out 4-year-old poses.

One image has already burned itself into my heart. As I write this you stare at me from my computer screen, slightly lopsided, mischievous grin on your face. Your blue eyes are getting darker and look almost brown against the arboretum’s fall pumpkins. Your hair is starting to curl a little, losing the fine texture of babyhood, and I can’t help but wonder if one day it will be curly like mine.

Our family jokes that you’re a “mini-Jennifer.” Your heart-shaped chin, your nose, and your hair are all reminiscent of your mother.

Sometimes you speak and I hear myself. Many of your mannerisms are mine. Your love of nature, your heart for others, your hunger for God are all very much echoes of me. So are some of your bad traits, but we won’t go into those. You will fight those battles just as I have. I hope you win. I hope it’s easier for you than it was for me.

Despite our similarities, I see those things that are so uniquely you. You will hug strangers when I shy away from them. You stand on stepstools in your pajamas, toy microphone in hand, and insist that I listen to tune after tune, watch dance after dance. You tell your mother, the poster child for the uncoordinated, that you want to be a ballerina when you grow up.

I see your striped sweater, falling just a little away from your neck, showing a touch of your shoulder. And suddenly I can see that shoulder peeking out from the strap of a prom dress. I see it bare, your fair skin pale against the white of a wedding gown. But in my mind, that smile is still there, slightly lopsided, reflected in your clear eyes.

From my screen I see a glimpse of the woman you will be: strong-willed, sweet, kind and with just a touch of sass.

That thought startles me, scares me as I think of you grown. Not ready for that yet. Those days will come soon enough. When the time comes, I look forward to getting to know that woman I see staring out of your little eyes. I hope we are friends.

But today you are four, and my heart rejoices in that thought.

I love four. Four is good.

Love, Mommy

July 16, 2012

The approval I really crave

Bible reading by Eryn
Flickr photo by Kjaere Friestad
By Jennifer Hannigan

I stink at being different.

I am an introverted person, but I also love people. Yes, I know the two traits seem to contradict each other, but they really don’t. I am a giver by nature, which means I like having things to give to people. But I also need very little from others, which I guess leaves me more to give.

However, the one thing I have found myself needing my entire life is approval. From anyone, everyone. Strangers. Coworkers. Friends. Family. I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid anyone throwing a negative thought in my direction.

However, as I look back at my years, I can see God slowly working to show me there’s only one approval I need.

The first time I remember speaking to God was at 8 years old. It was a warm June day and I was at church camp. We had a quiet time during the afternoon during which we were supposed to go and think about the things we had learned for a few minutes.

I remember not really taking this seriously. I was 8, after all. “Thinking about what we learned” generally meant making goofy faces at anyone within eyesight.

But on one day during camp I wandered over by myself, sat down in the green Michigan grass, and rested my brand new King James Bible on a tree stump.

As I began to read, I realized that I didn’t understand what I was reading (that was before children’s translations). I remember asking God to help me understand.

There was no miraculous understanding – only a feeling that I was not alone in that space. For the first time, I felt the quiet touch of my maker on my soul. And that night, when the invitation came in nighttime service, I went to the front and declared a newfound faith.

It would take me years to realize what I had agreed to that day. Being a Christian is not an easy road. To steal a line from an old movie (“The Princess Bride,” I believe), anyone who says otherwise is selling something. I had set myself on a path that day that would bring me many struggles, but also joy I could never have imagined.

On that day, I believe God placed his mark on me. And that made me different.

Have I mentioned I hate being different?

As a teenager I was mocked (in good-natured fashion) by my friends. I had one friend in high school, whom I still love dearly, who would introduce me to new acquaintances as “my friend, the virgin.” So many teen girls don’t make that decision, and so the fact that I did stood out.

One night at a beach party, a teenager a few years older than I suddenly looked at me in the middle of a conversation and said: “You’re a good girl, aren’t you?” Now we were in a conversation with 30 people gathered around. At the time, I wanted to sink into the sand because he had singled me out.

That sort of thing has happened to me my whole life. It still happens. Just last week I was talking to a co-worker. She said “I know you don’t talk like this, but…” and proceeded to express a thought containing an explicative. I would like to mention it was an explicative that has come out of my mouth on occasion, by the way.

Honestly, I have found the whole idea tough to swallow. I have never expected others to make the choices I made. I have tried to live my life right, but my family and God know better than anyone how much I’ve screwed things up over the years. I’ve fallen on my face, made mistakes, been at places I should never have been, lied, been selfish, judged others, made wrong choices, felt rage, etc.

So how does that make me a “good girl?”

I don’t think I am. In fact, I know I’m not. If anything, I see myself a little boring, not good. I struggle with my laundry list of sin the same as the next Christian. I think our struggle isn’t that we don’t have all the same sins in our hearts as the next person, but that we know better.

But I am learning, slowly, that when I declared myself a child of God at age 8, my maker placed his mark on my soul. And that He uses that mark as He sees fit.

He has claimed me as his, and so that means if He wants me to be viewed as a “good girl,” than that is His will, not mine. He and I both know the truth. The good thing is he loves me anyway.

That’s just part of what we signed up for when we embarked on this Christianity thing. He marks each one of us in His own way. We each have different talents and gifts. As I mature as a Christian, I am learning to appreciate the things God has placed in me. And I am learning to remember that the idea is not to worry about how God uses me, but to make sure my heart is the right place and let Him care for the rest.

Even if I do stink at the whole different thing.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” - Psalm 139:14

May 14, 2012

God can use that hole

hole in pole in color
Photo courtesy Ard Hesselink

“This is my comfort and consolation in my affliction: that Your word has revived me and given me life.” Psalm 119:50 (Amplified Bible)

By Jennifer Hannigan

I’ve always believed God has a great sense of humor. After all, he is the father of laughter along with everything else. I definitely had a good laugh a few weeks ago as He reminded me of who He is using a ham.

Yes, I said ham.

It’s not that much of a stretch really. I mean He’s used donkeys, bushes, liars, cheaters, prostitutes and tax collectors to get his point across. Why not ham?

I was leaving town that weekend, so in an effort to make sure my family is fed while I was gone I decided I would make a ham.

I took off work a little early, hit the grocery store and headed home to stuff my ham into a baking bag. I got the bag all together and secured it tightly closed.

Now I don’t consider myself a bad cook, but I am a little time crunched (which is a nice way of saying lazy) on occasion. I rarely preheat an oven, but today I decided to. Which is why, as I put the ham into the oven, a corner of the bag disintegrated when I brushed the ham against the top oven rack. I was left with a gaping hole and the smell of melting plastic.

I probably don’t need to tell you I wasn’t real happy at the gaping hole in my bag. But as I surveyed the damage, I realized it was close enough to the top that I could still cook the ham without everything falling out. So into the oven it went.

My mother has always made an amazing ham, and her recipe is now mine. Her “secret” ingredient – which isn’t so secret these days – is a can of Coke poured into the baking bag. Sounds weird, makes an awesome ham.

I had barely closed the oven door when I realized that there on the counter stood my bottle of Coke, unopened. Gah! I knew getting the Coke in would mean starting the process over, because once those bags are closed it’s a real chore to get them open without tearing them.

Turns out, the hole in the bag was exactly the size I needed to comfortably pour my Coke right in. Two hours later, nobody in my family knew that dinner was almost a disaster.

So how did God use ham? Well, as I added my soda in through the hole I realized that’s often how He works.

Have you ever had your soul blown wide open? One minute you’re fine, the next all your insides are exposed and you’re left trying to figure out how you’re going to make it through tomorrow with what’s left of you intact. There’s nothing more painful than that moment when you realize life is never going to be the same again.

That kind of pain can be crippling.

Those first days are the hardest, when you’re dealing with the shock of the hole left in your life. But once you’ve calmed down enough to survey the damage, recovery begins. You realize that it’s not ideal, but you can somehow make it through each day. The night comes that you get in bed and realize you didn’t cry that day.

Like my ham, you see you can still move forward.

And you begin to realize that God uses holes.

Once upon a time in my life, I lost a big chunk of who I was. For a long time, I fought against the change. And there were lessons learned through the battle.

People often ask God why. Why am I hurting? Why is not getting better? I did a fair amount of that myself during those tough years in my life.

But once I accepted the hole, God began to work in ways that still astonish me many years later.

He began to pour things into the gap in my soul - strength, perseverance, patience, joy and love. And through that process, I grew. I changed. I began to be grateful for the day the hole was blown into my life, because I was beginning to see what He had known all along: that there was a plan.

And through a silly act of my own clumsiness He reminded me of that gift.

There has been healing in the years since, but that hole in my heart is still there. My life was not restored to what it was before. I never got back what I had lost. However, now as I look back I wouldn’t trade the pain because I have seen the wonderful things that came after.

I won’t lie; I’m not in a hurry to go through that kind of experience again. However, I am definitely humbled by how our Father can use our biggest hurts to pass on unbelievable blessings. How he took away my life in order to give me a better life.

And then He uses a ham to make sure you don’t forget it.

April 28, 2012

Climbing out with God's Word

Bible Reading~Devotion
Flickr photo by Chineka

Have you ever been crushed in spirit? The kind of crushed that doesn’t come when you’re having a bad day, or a bad month. The kind that comes when you’re having a bad year. When you go home each day not sure how you made it through and not looking forward to figuring out how you’re going to make tomorrow happen.

If you haven’t, I am truly overjoyed for you. Some of us learn the lessons God teaches us without making Him go to such extremes. I am not that smart.

About a decade ago, God decided he wanted me to learn a few things. Big things. I not-so-respectfully disagreed with him. You can guess who won.

It was October 2003, and I wasn’t sure I was going to get out of the hole I had dug. When I started on the road the trouble I was in, I really thought I was taking the right path. Has anyone else ever noticed that when you “think” it’s the right thing it often leads to problems?